Alabama will be in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome Saturday to open the season against West Virginia at 2:30 p.m. CDT (3:30 eastern). ABC/ESPN2 is televising the first-ever meeting between the Crimson Tide and Mountaineers.
Bama is ranked second in the nation in both preseason polls. West Virginia, coming off a 4-8 season, is not ranked and is a substantial underdog against the Tide, even though the Mountaineers return 19 starters from last year.
Alabama is trying to get back to the top of the naional heap. After winning back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012 (and three in four years since Bama also won in 2009), the Tide would like to be in the four-team finalists in the history-making first year of the Colege Football Playoff.
There is good reason for Alabama under Nick Saban to expect great success. In the past six years, the Tide has averaged 12 wins per year, a 72-8 record. The 72 wins is the most by any major college football team in that period.
Alabama’s six straight seasons with 10 or more victories is a school record, breaking the mark previous set by Paul Bryant Bama teams (1971-75). In 118 football seasons, Alabama has won 10 or more games 33 times (two fewer than national leader Oklahoma). Under Saban, Alabama has won 11 or more games five times, a mark reached by Crimson Tide teams 17 times.
These figures are brought up not so much for purposes of reverie, but rather as preamble to the cause of the great effect.
Defense! Defense! Defense!
Alabama has led the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense for five consecutive seasons, the only program ever to accomplish that feat. The Tide led the nation in scoring defense by allowing 8.2 points per game in the 2011 national championship season and 10.9 ppg while winning the 2012 title. Last year Bama fell off to fourth in the nation, allowing 13.9 ppg.
When Alabama opened the 2013 season in the Georgia Dome with a 35-10 win over Virginia Tech, the starting defensive lineup was far different from the one that will be on the field Saturday. Although there could be a change or two, with the recent announcement that middle linebacker Trey DePriest is suspended for this game, the only regular linebacker starters from last year are outside linebackers Denzel Devall and Xzavier Dickson, both who played jack last year. Devall is listed at strongside. Also returning as a starter on defense from last year’s opening game is Jarrick Williams, who plays at Star (nickel back). Brandon Ivory is back at nose tackle, but he was not listed as a likely starter for this game.
Our guess is that Alabama will open the game defensively with a nickel back and no middle linebacker, so the likely starters are ends D.J. Pettway and Jonathan Allen, nose tackle A'Shawn Robinson, Devall and Dickson, Reggie Ragland at weakside linebacker, cornerbacks Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones, star Jarrick Williams, strong safety Landon Collins, and safety Geno Smith.
Alabama is 95-21-3 (81.1 per cent) in season-opening games and has a 12-year winning streak in season-openers.